Assembly @ George Street / Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
, 2007
**** / ****

Every year a number of Fringe shows decide to conspicuously refuse to compete in terms of grand scale, glitzy production values or the like. This year you can see Fringe regular Julian Fox continue his characteristic deadpan, is-this-guy-for-real strain of dada banality in You've Got To Love Dancing To Stick To It (Pleasance Courtyard), whereas a little distance away Chris Goode, who made his Edinburgh name with beautifully intimate productions that visited your own home, is this year reading out messages posted online in the genuine Hippo World Guest Book (Pleasance Dome) as a testimony to how a dream can be tainted and fade.

One of the most endearing examples is, as you might suspect, far less ramshackle than it looks. Story Of A Rabbit is a performance by Hugh Hughes, alias Shôn Dale-Jones of the Hoipolloi company, much in the manner of his Floating which played here last year (and returns briefly next week) and which I reviewed at the Barbican this spring. The new piece muses on the deaths of a neighbour's pet rabbit and Hughes' own father, whilst making deeper points about the ways in which we are simultaneously individuals and a collective. Once again, the magic glue which holds things together is Hughes' lovable openness; he makes an immediate and warm contact with his audience, so that we feel he is sharing with us rather than presenting to us.

Perhaps the most impressive midget gem, though, is Scarborough. Its three performances each day play to around 20 people each; for this 40-minute window on to the end of an affair between a boy just turning 16 and his 29-year-old teacher is played in a space which has been turned into a perfect replica of an undistinguished bed & breakfast hotel room in which they are supposedly spending the weekend; we line the walls or perch where possible, seldom more than six feet from the actors. Technical effects are run discreetly from a corner, with a staff tech hitting an iPod control to play the rock songs which punctuate the scenes. Holly Atkins and in particular James Baxter turn in riveting performances in this finely crafted miniature by Fiona Evans, who has progressed from working in the Assembly press office to having a play staged in the venue.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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